People who go on expeditions to explore new territory know it is neither wise nor safe to cut themselves off from all civilization, all contact, all concern, and just disappear into the wilderness. They take communication devices, the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, maps, sextants, compasses, first-aide, experienced companions, journals to record and report, and countless more supplies, no doubt mostly prepared by others. Even hermits or people like Christopher McCandless do this, but perhaps in cruder fashion. Generally, people who venture out on dangerous expeditions into the remote wilderness or deep sea or space realize they are doing so for the benefit of the human race and maintain contact therefore.
I believe it is the same for those venturing out spiritually, religiously, theologically, or philosophically. Those who venture out on their own and completely cut themselves off to disappear into the wasteland forever have only benefited no one. Which seems to be happening a lot today. It can be argued… and it is an argument I listen to… that people such as monks and hermits who remove themselves from the crowd in order to explore new spiritual territory or to pray for the world are actually benefiting the human race vicariously. What I am talking about even applies to them. They realize that even though they intentionally detach themselves from the crowd, they are not completely on their own nor should be… that somehow we are all still connected in a vital way to benefit one another.
It is important for those of us who venture out theologically, spiritually, ecclesiastically, philosophically, religiously… that we remember our connections. Which is why I think it is important to:
- Study the bible, especially in its original languages. If you can. Or use translations and commentaries that do. I don’t think it is wise to abandon the study of the scriptures or to neglect the oldest and best manuscripts of them. Even though I don’t believe the bible is THE Revelation, it certainly is the oldest witness to It. This has fundamental value. I personally know the temptation to abandon the years of Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic that I took through my theological education. But I am wisest when I realize they are like keys to a precious book.
- Study the theologians and philosophers who have already broken ground. Even though Luther and Calvin made enormous, radical and reformational breakthroughs in theology, they admitted they were standing on the shoulders of those who went before, including the philosophers. Even though Barth’s Romans shook the ecclesiastical world, he humbly realized he stood in a long line of theological forebears.
- Study our history and tradition. I don’t think there is wisdom in being different for difference’s sake. Neither do I think there is safety. Like an explorer who humbly accepts the council of those who are experienced and know, or learns lessons from those who died on the ice, so we should sincerely appreciate what has worked and what hasn’t. It’s all been done before, so I suspect the effects are available for us to observe.
I suspect this is one of the most conservative posts I’ve written.